How's Obama faring in the Rocky Mountain West?
The president, in Montana on Friday and Colorado on Saturday, has so far taken care not to alienate 'New West' swing states. But rumblings are nonetheless afoot.
Barack Obama has said he loves the Rocky Mountain West and, last November, this little corner of it reciprocated.Skip to next paragraph
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Though he lost Montana in the presidential election, Mr. Obama carried Bozeman and surrounding Gallatin County, the first Democrat to do so since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1944, notes political scientist Jerry Calvert, at Montana State University here. He won Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.
But that blip of support could be tenuous. Though changes in the interior West – which the president and first lady visit for three days beginning Friday – have brought newcomers whose sensibilities are less rock-ribbed Republican than the old-timers', the region's pervasive streak of independent-mindedness means the New West can hardly be considered Democratic Party turf. To keep at least some places in the "swing state" column, Obama will need to step carefully to avoid the mistakes of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, say political analysts in the region.
Democrats on the skids
Fifteen years ago, Mr. Clinton dispatched Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, a former Arizona governor, to the Western hinterlands, where he championed reform of mining rules and livestock grazing, recovery of endangered species such as wolves, and cuts in the tree harvest from national forests. Those positions became yet another rallying cry for then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R), who parlayed antigovernment sentiments into midterm-election victory, giving Republicans control of Capitol Hill that lasted for 12 years.
“I think Obama is well aware of what happened to Clinton,” says Brian Kuehl, managing partner of The Clark Group, a policy think tank, who was formerly the legislative director for US Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana. “Obama and those around him are smart enough not to repeat those mistakes, but more importantly, the West is different than it was in the early 1990s.”